In the past 10 years, as professional newsrooms across the country have made a shift from print-first to digital-first, high school publications have followed suit, saving them money and allowing them to reach more people.
“It’s pretty evident in journalism across the board that online is where to go because of the immediacy of it,” said Stacy Gerst, who has taught journalism at Hammonton High School for five years.
In South Jersey, many of the high school newspapers that once printed monthly in black and white have been replaced by free WordPress websites and morning news broadcasts on YouTube, school advisers say. Online versions allow students to get the news out to their peers in the same way professional publications do: immediately.
“No one’s excited about reading an article about a door-decorating contest or a football game a month after it happens,” Gerst said.
John O’Brien, who served as executive director of the New Jersey Press Association for 20 years and five years as director of the NJPA Press Foundation, said being online is a key part of being a news outlet, whether in high school or professionally.
“The scholastic world sort of mirrors the real world,” said O’Brien. “In my experience, in recent years, you have to search far and wide for someone under 30 years old who reads a newspaper.”
Mainland Regional High School senior Maggie Shepherd, 17, of Linwood, and junior Bekah Kravitz, 16, of Northfield, are no strangers to print journalism but admitted it doesn’t attract many young readers.
“Students, we don’t read paper newspapers,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd’s grandfather Mike “Shep” Shepherd was a longtime sports editor at The Press of Atlantic City and now writes a fishing column for the paper. Kravitz’s grandfather was Seymour “Pinky” Kravitz, a longtime Atlantic City radio host and Press columnist.
At Mainland, the young women are co-hosts of the morning news broadcast and deal with all things digital, including equipment comparable to a professional studio.
“I feel like it’s just second nature, with all the technology we have now,” Kravitz said.
Mainland’s broadcast media teacher, Chuck Smith, has been teaching the class since it started in 1992 and said much has changed since the days of VHS tapes and bulky equipment.
“Now, it’s just a computer,” Smith said.
He said the students’ abilities have grown over the years due to their exposure to technology.
“In the beginning, some families might have had a video camera at home, so when they got here, this was very new,” Smith said.
In the past decade, with the advent of the smartphone, students come to the class with a basic knowledge of video editing. By just having a cellphone, they have a video recorder and a library in their pocket.
“It’s such a tool,” Smith said. “We use it all the time.”
O’Brien said that access to technology has also produced a shift in students’ learning experience once they are in the real world.
He said students taking advantage of an NJPA foundation internship program are now showing professional newsrooms how to take advantage of the internet.
“I would say for the first 10 years I was involved in the foundation through the Press Association, the young journalists would go to a newsroom with a grizzled, old, over-50 newspaper editor, who would just rip them up and down on everything from their headline style to their writing, but when they were done they were better journalists,” O’Brien said. “That has shifted today to we would send interns into a newspaper and they would literally take over the newsroom because of their digital prowess.”